Towards a shared vision for waste and resource management (2): Policy and regulatory approaches

The Resource Recovery from Waste (RRfW) programme coordinates a co-creation process for a shared vision and approach for sustainable waste and resource management in the UK.

Last week we introduced the co-creation methods and results on effective collaboration between government and academic partners. This week we discuss preliminary results on policy and regulatory approaches in support of the transition towards more sustainable waste and resource management. How can government support a move away from end-of-pipe approaches and maximise the value created from resources whilst keeping them in the economy for as long as possible?

We are looking for further input from governmental partners and other interested stakeholders. Are the presented approaches sufficient to support the transition process? Are any policy and regulatory approaches missing? Do you have a preference for any of the presented approaches? Please leave a comment or contact us directly.

Policy recommendations

Policy efforts should focus on eradicating waste. Engagement of government partners has highlighted five focal areas for policy development so far:

  • Longer-term policies that are stable and predictable, enabling investment and business model innovation.
  • Focus policies on resources and resource efficiency rather than waste and waste reduction.
  • Build on the EU Circular Economy Strategy to maintain integrity with EU resource, waste and circular economy policies.
  • Prioritise reduction of single use and superfluous products/packaging as well as the use of hazardous materials in products when it poses barriers to recycling.
  • Develop waste infrastructure in support of decarbonisation agenda.
    Regulatory approaches

Turning to regulatory approaches, a combination of incentives and regulations were suggested to focus efforts on the higher levels of the waste hierarchy.

The overriding idea is that each level of the waste hierarchy needs its own mix of incentives and regulations, with more ‘carrot’ or ‘save as you recycle’ approaches towards the higher levels and more use of regulatory ‘sticks’ or taxation to prevent resources moving down the hierarchy (see figure above).

Regulatory instruments

Six groups of regulatory instruments were discussed:

  1. Taxation and tax breaks, for example to support reuse and repair, and to internalise elements of resource value that are currently largely externalised from the costs of materials, components and products, such as the environmental impacts of extracting natural resources or the end-of-life impacts when products become waste.
  2. Reporting to identify and understand resource flows, especially at higher levels of the waste hierarchy such as reuse. Reporting could be incentivised by tax breaks.
  3. Extended producer and consumer responsibility – Extended producer responsibility (EPR) could target specific waste/ resource streams, supporting schemes to make polluters pay and motivate designing wastes out of the system. EPR should be combined with more consumer responsibility, to improve the quality of waste resources feeding into the waste and reprocessing industry.
  4. Product bans or product standards – Product bans would be a strong instrument to intervene. However, such bans may be contentious and the alternative would be products standards and inclusion of environmental and social externalities in economic value.
  5. Mandatory recycling regimes – In support of extended producer and consumer responsibility, markets could be further directed by mandating recycling regimes. Such mandates would improve the quality of recycled resources, essential to realising the circular economy.
  6. Waste Prevention Act – Waste and resource management can play an important role in carbon reductions. Especially waste prevention could contribute to such extent that it should not be just voluntary and, instead, should be embedded in a Waste Prevention Act.
Regulatory instruments reviewed.

Reconsidering existing policies and regulations

When introducing the regulatory approaches above, reconsideration of the existing policy and regulatory framework is also necessary:

  • Adjust regulation to support the closing of resource loops. The regulatory system should become less centred on waste and focus more on valuing resources.
  • Realign support for competing incentivised supply chains, to ward off perverse incentives that for example prioritise energy recovery over waste prevention.
  • Focus regulatory efforts more on those who can actually (pay for) change in waste and resource management. For example, local councils carry responsibility for recycling but austerity measures cause difficulty to achieve obligations.

Finally, education and support play an important role in enabling change in waste and resource management practices. For example, the LGA is well positioned to provide information to local councils about circular economy and best practice, supporting them in realising waste infrastructure and cultural change. Moreover, government actors in power to lead on waste and resource management, as well as businesses, would benefit from understanding the circular economy and the opportunities it offers. Academia should play a key role in providing consistent, credible and impartial education materials on all areas of waste and resource management.

We value your feedback!

The preliminary results introduced above will be included in a publication, which will be finalised from the middle of February. Please share your views before 17. February 2017 to be included in the article.

NB Should you wish to use the presented results above, please reference as: Anne P.M. Velenturf et al. (Forthcoming) Co-producing a Vision and Approach for the Transition towards a Circular Economy: Perspectives from Government Partners.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn on 3rd February 2017.